PART 3: WHAT IS THE MICROBIOME AND WHY SHOULD YOU CARE!?
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WHAT IS THE MICROBIOME AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT - PART 3

Fuel Dev

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We’ve been digging deep into what the microbiome does, and last week we covered 2 of the 4 main roles it plays in your body. Today, we will cover the remaining 2 roles the microbiome plays, to complete our 3-part series on WHAT THE F—IS A MICROBIOME, anyway!? 

As a reminder, and to set the stage, I’ve narrowed the role the microbiome plays into 4 main tasks:1-5

  • Mining calories and nutrients from food you cannot digest or metabolize
  • Producing very important and impactful compounds that your body depends on for function
  • Breaking down things you don’t want or need
  • Keeping “bad” pathogens away.


Let’s dig in to the final 2 today.

  • Breaking down things you don’t want or need.

Who loves hangovers? This is one of the few questions I think EVERYONE has the same answer to... NOT ME. They’re just awful, aren’t they? Also, they’re one of the many things that gets worse as we get older (yay, aging!) You may be surprised to learn that your microbiome has big influence on how you metabolize alcohol.1-3,6,7 Guts with high bacterial abundance have been shown to triple our ability to break down toxins like alcohol and other drugs.6,7


Who loves heartburn? Like hangovers, feelings of heartburn and indigestion are universally hated AND (you guessed it) can be helped with more diverse gut microorganisms.

Here’s how it works: Greasy meals or over-indulging can cause our bellies to produce extra acids to aid in digestion. While these acids DO help with breaking food down, they are also very powerful, so when they linger they cause our pH balance to get out of whack.1-3,9 This is when indigestion and heartburn occur (because the acids are so powerful). Guts with a high abundance of bacteria have been shown to not only help break down these hard-to-metabolize meals, they actually ALSO help break down our own bile and stomach acids post-duty.4-6,10 By reducing the time these acids interact with our lining, a healthy microbiome eliminates or significantly reduces upset stomach and indigestion after
meals.1-3,10

Since we’re talking acids, I’d like to take a small tangent here and share the counterintuitive fact that JUST because something is acidic or alkaline when you ingest it does NOT mean it’s going to have that effect when it interacts with food and enters your body. For example, lemon juice or kombucha are very acidic, yet they’ve repeatedly been associated with lower production of stomach acid when ingested, therefore are considered “alkalizing.” On the other side, there are alkaline foods (like chocolate, meat) that cause your body to produce more acid in order to digest them. All this to say is, people with chronic indigestion often report BENEFITS not worsening symptoms, when they drink things like lemon water or kombucha, despite their acidity.

OK – back to indigestion (fun!) With more than $1B spent on over-the-counter baby pink liquids to help with this very common occurrence every year, it’s a real wonder why people aren’t going to their gut as the first step and solution. One article at a time, we’re hoping to change that!

4) Keeping “bad” pathogens away.

This one is my favorite by far, because for some reason I just love when nature proves its power over man. Makes me feel small, and somehow protected. Makes me want to go camping and eat dirt. Anywayyyy…

Friendly bacteria in your gut can help identify the “bad” pathogens from the “good” bacteria and eradicate them before they make you sick.1,3,8,9 Isn’t that cool? Modern medicine hasn’t figured this out, yet nature just knows. For this reason, probiotics are actually some of the top studied organisms by pharmaceutical companies, looking for the next “targeted” (vs broad spectrum) antibiotic.

This battle between good and bad bacteria happens in your gut and without you even knowing. Studies have shown that guts with an abundance of bacteria can even reduce the effects of getting very sick from salmonella and e-coli, the 2 most common and awful sources of food poisoning in US!8-10 You know the coolest part? This inner battle isn’t even the only way your microbiome boosts your ability to protect against sickness. Remember in the previous article where we talked about the other 2 roles the microbiome plays? Don’t forget that the microbiome drives and influences immunity outside the gut, too, by impacting T cell and B cell counts. It’s like these critters are playing Army, Navy and Airforce at the same time, with Marine-level skillzzzz.

***

OK I feel pretty confident that we have completed the task of defining the microbiome and what it does. I am making the assumption now that you MUST care, because it’s a major player in your immune response, skin health, energy, digestion, metabolism, blood sugar regulation, sleep, AND mood. If you don’t care about that, we’re done here. If you do, read on!!!!!!! BYEEEEEEE for now .

UP NEXT: Did you know the antibiotics we take now pretty much kill everything in sight? I thought so. And that’s the blog we’ll go to next.


Sources:

  • Eamonn M. M. Quigley, MD, FRCP, FACP, FACG, FRCPI, et al. Gut Bacteria in Health and Disease. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2013 Sep; 9(9): 560–569.
  • Guarner F, Malagelada JR. Gut flora in health and disease. Lancet. 2003;361(9356):512–519.
  • Sekirov I, Russell SL, Antunes LC, Finlay BB. Gut microbiota in health and disease. Physiol Rev. 2010;90(3):859–904.
  • Clemente JC, Ursell LK, Parfrey LW, Knight R. The impact of the gut micro-biota on human health: an integrative view. Cell. 2012;148(6):1258–1270.
  • O’Hara AM, Shanahan F. The gut flora as a forgotten organ. EMBO Rep. 2006;7(7):688–693.
  • Sheena Patel, et al. Alcohol and the Intestine. Biomolecules. Dec 2015; v.5(4).
  • Mutlu E.A., et al. Colonic microbiome is altered in alcoholism. Am. J. Physiol. Gastrointest. Liver Physiol. 2012;302:G966–G978.
  • Lebeer S, Vanderleyden J, De Keersmaecker SC. Host interactions of probiotic bacterial surface molecules: comparison with commensals and pathogens. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2010;8(3):171–184.
  • Lee YK, Mazmanian SK. Has the microbiota played a critical role in the evolution of the adaptive immune system? Science. 2010;330(6012):1768–1773.
  • O’Hara AM, Shanahan F. Gut microbiota: mining for therapeutic potential. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2007;5(3):274–284.

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